The Egg Came First

Well, it did in a kitchen anyway. No one, I don’t care who they are, can claim genuine culinary competence if they cannot properly scramble an egg or prepare an omelet (the former is a precursor to the latter, by the way). Roasting a chicken is also an essential skill, but I would argue that since breakfast comes first and an egg cooks in a matter of seconds or minutes, making eggs is the very first step on the road to cooking well.

I learned this many years ago in school at The French Culinary Institute from Chef Henri Viain who told me that when he was a boy in France and he went on an interview for a stage (an internship), he would be asked to prepare scrambled eggs or roast a chicken. After all, if you cannot do that, what can you do? Exotic ingredients and offbeat combinations do not a competent cook make. It’s the foundations and clean execution of timeless technique that makes a real cook.

Watch master chef Andre Soltner make an omelet and then go make one yourself. Refer to my recipe below for step-by-step instructions. You’ll be on your way to competent cooking!

The ultimate omelet is French: rolled, as opposed to flat, and generally with a completely smooth, unbrowned surface, and slightly runny in the middle. Taste and preference prevail, of course, but this is the classic preparation. The key to making a superb omelet is scrambling the eggs first, then setting the omelet. Never overstuff it, or you’ll have a hard time rolling it. If egg white omelets are more your speed, try making the following recipe with 3 large egg whites and just one yolk. You’ll never go back to just egg whites again!

Essential equipment: small mixing bowl; fork; nonstick 8-inch sauté pan, flat wooden spoon
Essential technique: mise en place; sauté

for the omelet:
3 large eggs (ideally, room temperature)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

for the filling, choose one of the following per omelet:
¼ cup grated cheese
3 tablespoons caramelized onions
¼ cup chopped tomatoes
2 button mushrooms, sliced

Break eggs into a bowl and mix well with a fork. Heat a nonstick 8-inch skillet over medium heat and add 2 teaspoons butter. When the butter foams, add the eggs and let them be, just until they start to set along the edge. Stir continuously with the back of a fork or wooden spoon until they are at a runny scramble stage. Spread them evenly in the pan. When the omelet is lightly set, stop stirring and remove the omelet from the heat. (The point at which you stop stirring is the key to having a smooth omelet.)

Place the filling in the middle of the omelet. Fold the edge of the omelet over onto itself, tilt the pan from the handle and lightly tap the pan so that the omelet moves down to the edge of the pan. Form the omelet with a wooden spoon.

Roll the omelet onto a warm plate seam-side down. Adjust the form if necessary by shaping with a clean towel. Serve immediately.

Makes 1 omelet.

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